Can architecture affect human behavior?

Architecture is my major. As an architecture student, I believe that architecture drives cultures and progression. Of course, you can also say that about science, so maybe science and architecture aren’t so different after all?

In this blog, I hope to stimulate some thinking into architecture and how it affects us more than just “Oh, that building looks cool.”

Let’s take a look at the science of human behavior. Human behaviors are based off of everything we do and everything we feel as an individual as well as the entire race. We as an individual are influenced in different ways that affect a behaviors. We are influenced by our nature, what we were born into (our genetics, creative mind/analytical mind) and our nurture, what we grew up into (religion, social norms, attitudes). Wikipedia has a more in depth description of human behavior.  

Now I am confident in saying that our current world would not exist if it weren’t for the presence of creativity. This is what defines us as a human species. Everyone uses creativity everyday of their lives and it can create small changes or even changes the entire culture. Don’t believe me? Here’s an example:

In the Stuckeman Family Building (the architecture building), there are 2 main entrances that allow the architecture students to enter with swipe access any time out of normal office hours. There are also a couple doors that exit outside as an emergency exit from the stairwells. As architecture students who like to save as much time as possible, we realized that entering through this one particular stairwell exit was a lot faster in getting to our particular studio space than walking through the main entrance. Of course this door was always locked to the outside so we had to think of (creative) ways to keep the door propped. We’d use rocks, sticks, pieces of leftover model material, etc… At first, the school would post signs telling us to stop but then eventually realized it was better for everyone to add a door handle and a swipe access to this door. Now my classmates and classes to come have easier access to our studio space and all we had to do was just be creative and break just some rules. Somehow my students and I changed the attitudes of the heads of the building. We also changed the social norms of entering through the “front door” of the building.

We are influenced by what I personally view as our unintentional (economic status) as well intentional environments (sidewalks). Sidewalks and urban layout has all been thought out and designed intentionally. Why do we follow sidewalks? There is not actual law that forces us to. We are influenced by design to behave a certain way. Although we are greatly influenced by environment, sometimes we are creative enough to influence the environment ourselves as shown in the picture below:

sidewalk use

In architecture, light, materials, space, color, and much more are thoughtfully considered and carefully decided. Every single decision affects human behavior. In my room, I always have my blind open but when I look at the windows in the building across from me, I never see the blinds open.. Why?

My windows are facing the Northwest which means that I will rarely see the sun except for when it starts setting. The building across from me with windows facing  southeast gets direct sunlight for the majority of the day. Not only is the unintentional environment (sun) affecting the behavior of the students across from me as well as me (closing vs. opening the blinds) but the intentional environment (windows) affect our behavior (receiving too much sun or not enough).

I could talk for hours about how material, space, and color also affect our behaviors but I think that I may have said enough to provoke some thought. Please leave questions if you have more questions about the psychology of architecture. If you are interested in learning more about some buildings that use psychology to drive their design, you can read about Snøhetta’s Oslo Opera House in this article.

Our environment and design greatly influences human behavior in everyday life and as a whole human species.

6 thoughts on “Can architecture affect human behavior?

  1. Danielle Megan Sobel

    I was browsing through this blog and this post really made me think. Great work. I never thought about this subject too much, but I know I’m the type of person who never walks on sidewalks (I’m guilty of making the ugly muddy path in the grass) because they never take a direct route. I know living in East Halls, I always have to rush across the commons outside to go to class and following the pavement is never the fastest way, but when I walk through the grass I always get weird looks. What’s your opinion on the matter- sidewalk vs. making your own path?

  2. Taylor Weinstein

    Hello Hannah,
    This was a very interesting topic! if it weren’t for the creativity of human being then we would have never been created or have been here. The line that you stated that we design to behave a certain way. I totally agree with that statement. I mean our culture and the people in our culture help us to behave in certain ways and do things like walk on sidewalks because that is the norm and what we are told to do. We are making and taking our own paths through the world and we decide our environment in many different ways. We are always creating new paths and I definetly think that architecture has an affect on how we view the world and how it affects us as humans. I found an article about how we are the architects of our own happiness. I have to agree with that statement. We make and follow paths that make us happy. We try to take the easy way and go on the short path but instead lets create our own path and be happy with trying something new.

  3. Brooke Barrett

    This concept is very interesting and intriguing. I know one thing that made me fall in love with Penn State when I visited for the first time as a senior in high school was the architecture and layout of the campus. It was amazing and the entire layout made me fall in love! Little did I know at the time how crucial time management would be from getting from one class to another. My first fall semester here, I had all my classes (5) in one day right after each other and they were located all over. I had to think about the fastest ways to get from one class to another. I would start cutting through buildings and such taking different routes that few people would take so i can relate to you trying to find the quickest way possible to class! I totally agree that architecture can influence our daily choices. I know in my dorm, when the sun sets, it shines directly in my room and that is usually when I close my blinds at night. It’s amazing how certain things and aspects of life interact with each other and you don’t really realize it right away!

  4. Katrina Burka

    As an architecture major, you think about the paths people take and how objects, buildings, and natural landscapes affect peoples lives. A question I have for you is in regard to your last paragraphs. If architectures know certainly that different amounts of light. window placements, the design of a building, greatly affects people moods, why do they still design buildings that may give some certain advantages over others? Why not try to make the architecture “equal” in a sense, or, is it up to chance to decide who gets the better situation? I’m studying human geography, so I really related to your point that the environment and humans bounce off each other. If you are ever interested in human geography, you should take a beginner class. We discuss the interconnectedness of location, time, place, and space which greatly relates to architecture. Here is a brief summary of human geography.

    1. Hannah Marie Helmes Post author

      Thank you for your question! If I understand your question correctly, you are wondering why some buildings may have advantages over others and why say one residence hall gets too much light where some may not get enough. This is a perfect example of how the culture influences the architecture. In America, we value mass production. The idea is to create as much as possible as fast as possible. This is why if you go to the suburbs, every single house looks almost identical (the term is ‘cookie cutter houses’). These buildings are not built for the environment but for the desire to mass produce. I live in the suburbs of Philadelphia. My room gets absolutely no sunlight so it’s always dim in my room. YET my sister’s room gets way too much and her room is unbearably hot. The house wasn’t designed for it’s location, it was designed to look just like it’s prototype. Another reason for the ‘inequality’ of buildings pertains to space. Ideally, how great would it be for every room in East Halls faced the beautiful mountains instead of a parking lot? This is unrealistic because Penn State wants to fit as many students as they can in a small space and designed it as such. Architecture greatly influences the culture and human behavior but the values of our culture greatly influence Architecture.

  5. Sarah Elizabeth Read

    Hey Hannah! I’ve never given this topic that much thought, but it’s such an interesting concept. It’s so true– that we wouldn’t be here (or at least thriving on earth) if it weren’t for the creativity that humans are able to use in their day-to-day lives. And I think that it’s because of this creativity that we do come up with alternative plans in regards to architecture. The people that designed the Architecture building had a different sense of creativity than you do, probably because the architects weren’t current students and didn’t think about creating the fastest possible route for students to get to certain classes. I’ve discovered the same thing, even just in my residence hall. I’ve found that since my dorm is located at the end of the hall on the fifth floor–it’s easier for me to go in through the back stairwell, than to enter through the front and take the elevator. (This also forces me to take 5 flights of stairs every time I go back to my dorm). I’m definitely going to pay more attention to the architecture around me as I walk around from now on, and how it influences my everyday behavior.

Leave a Reply